My family uses computers quite a bit. We have a desktop machine for each of us. We’ve had quite a bit of success with hitting the right combinations of options to keep the costs per year low. When my wife’s computer finally stopped working, we had to go through the process of choosing options once again.
Everyone has different ideas about what work they’re willing to do to keep a computer running. My list is roughly one item long: pay money. If some component in the tower breaks, the whole tower goes. If the machine has too little memory for my needs, then the whole tower goes. If the operating system gets too corrupted to fix without reinstalling it, then the whole tower goes; the several times I’ve tried wiping a hard disk and starting over have not been worth the effort. I’ll work hard to save my data, but then the tower gets replaced.
In the past, I usually chose to upgrade from the minimum RAM, hard disk, and processor to get a machine that would last 5 or 6 years instead of the roughly 2 years that a bare-bones machine can be expected to last. But, things have changed. Processors are more than powerful enough for my wife and me. Hard disks have far more capacity than we need for most things; we use an external drive for backups.
So, that just leaves RAM. Most of the cheap desktop specials we see have had 8 GB of RAM. This is enough for us today, but it seems likely that applications will keep getting fatter and hogging more RAM. My gut feel is that doubling the RAM to 16 GB will extend the computer’s useful life from 2 years to about 4 years. If I’m right, then this is a good upgrade because it certainly doesn’t double the computer’s price.
I’m interested in other ideas for keeping yearly computer costs down without sacrificing usability.